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On the Road

On the Road


by Jack Kerouac

On the Road Theme of Drugs and Alcohol

In On the Road, we see different kinds of alcohol use, including abuse and alcoholism in Dean’s missing father. Both drug and alcohol use can be sources of money problems and poverty, as characters repeatedly prioritize drugs or alcohol over food and other necessities. Alcohol is one lens through which to view America, both as it exists in the 1940s and as it has changes over time (Bull Lee discusses the decay of America via the loss of "the Ideal Bar"). Alcohol and drugs become a tool through which we can see Dean and Sal’s relationship, as Sal’s dreams and actions when he is high or drunk parallel those of a sober Dean.

Questions About Drugs and Alcohol

  1. How does all the drug use factor in to the plot, the characters, and the tone of the story?
  2. Why does Dean have visions when he’s sober, and Sal doesn’t seem to until he’s starving to death or on drugs?
  3. Sal uses alcohol to characterize his friends. Who are the different people we see drinking, and what does their drinking behavior say about their personalities?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Through Dean and Old Bull Lee, Kerouac draws connections between intense drug use and wisdom in On the Road.

The attitude and visions that Sal is able to obtain only with drugs is what Dean experiences all the time. Sal uses drugs to be more like Dean.

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